Brandon joined the Marine Corps in 2001 and later deployed to Iraq. When he came home, his family found him changed. His aunt said he told her later that he had thought about suicide. Brandon came to VA for help and later spoke to us about his experiences.
Tell us about your deployment. What’s on your mind?
There was an island in the Euphrates River. The intel was that there was enemy on this island and that they were shooting mortars from this island. You know you have your M16 slung, your magazines, you have your grenades. So you’re swimming with a full combat load. That morning, my swimming partner was Corporal Jeffrey Green.
We were maybe 15 feet from the island. And I told Corporal Green I was going to try to touch the bottom and I couldn’t touch so we started swimming again. By the time I swam that 15 feet I turned around and Corporal Green was gone.
I always wondered why me? Why didn’t I get hurt? Why didn’t I get shot? And why didn’t I get killed? You know, why did these guys have to die? And they remind me to get up and make the most of my day.
What did you do when you got off active duty?
When I got out, I had a really hard time with the transition from military to civilian life. I had a hard time sleeping. If I wasn’t blacked out drunk, I would have bad dreams. And, you know, that was my way of coping with the problem – blacking out. So, I drank to try to solve my problems. And I had that mentality where I didn’t want to ask for help.
How did you turn the corner? What happened?
The New Years of 2007, some friends and I ended up meeting this girl named Lara. This VA appointment had come up and I was unsure and hesitant if I was going to go or not. But all I needed was that one person to tell me yes, do it, and I went. I ended up going to the Minneapolis VA. And I was diagnosed with PTSD and anxiety disorder.
What’s happening now?
A lot has changed over the last couple years. I used the Montgomery GI Bill to go to school. I went to school in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, at Chippewa Valley Technical College. There, I got two associate degrees, one in business management and one in marketing.
I graduated school and I started a production company, and I travel the United States and Canada recording Native American music. The company is doing well. It’s in its third year. I’m really happy where I’m at right now. I couldn’t ask for anything more right now.
What would you tell other Marines about using VA?
My advice would be to definitely go to VA and let them know how you’re feeling. They have plenty of awesome doctors and all these programs. They’re there for Veterans. Anything you might have going on, that’s what VA is for. And there are plenty of people to help you.
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Bronwyn Emmet is a public affairs specialist for the National Veterans Outreach Office.